Three lonely souls in Tehran search for love in this interesting, downbeat comedy drama from writer-director Ali Jabernansari. Part portrait of alienation in Iran, part examination of modern dating, its characters suffer as much from their own human frailties as they do from the oppressive politics of Iran’s theocratic regime. There are echoes here of Abbas Kiarostami and Asghar Farhadi, and something, too, of the bittersweet air of an American indie pic hangs over it.
Forough Ghajabagli injects genuine sympathy into the sad-sacky role of Mina, a receptionist at a beauty clinic, unhappy with her weight and smouldering with bitterness. In her spare time, Mina anonymously stalks hot guys who come to the clinic (for laser hair removal mostly), messaging them with fake photos, pretending to be a model-beautiful woman called Sara.
In a second, interwoven strand, Amir Hessam Bakhtiari plays an untalkative ex-bodybuilding champion called Hessam, a man with legs the size of a mature oak tree who now works as a personal trainer. Bakhtiari has a beautifully soulful, hangdog face: if he was American, he’d be Scorsese’s go-to burly thug. And, in fact, Hessam is spotted by a film producer and cast in a movie.
When he begins training a cocky young bodybuilder, the suggestion arises – very gently – that Hessam might be gay. I don’t think Jaberansari is making an overtly political film, but he subtly conveys a sense of the stifling impact on natural human relations of Iran’s regime.
The third character in this movie triptych is Vahid (Mehdi Saki), a morose funeral singer with caterpillar eyebrows who has been dumped by his girlfriend.
The main weakness of the film is the similarity of its three down-in-the-dumps characters. This lends the whole thing a bit of lacklustre feel, but the access it gives us to modern life in Tehran is a real thrill.
• Tehran: City of Love is released in the UK on 11 October.